One of the greatest dangers for Christians is to literally "fall from grace". I'm not talking about the world's definition, an idiom referring to a loss of status, respect, or prestige. No, I'm referring to the biblical definition apostle Paul expressed in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 5:4 he wrote that the Galatians, having accepted God's grace were in danger of returning to the bondage of legalism thereby "falling from grace". We face that same temptation as Christians today. We can easily say bye to the grace life and slip into religion. And it can be so subtle that often times we don't even realize it.
The best way to tell if you've "fallen from grace" is to ask yourself am I ruled by precepts or am I living by principles?
Let me explain the difference because we can easily get confused. Principles are inward beliefs and motivation for behavior. Precepts are outward actions, training the mind in order to regulate behavior. Chuck Swindoll explained it this way. When you drive down the road and see the "Speed Limit 35 Miles an Hour" sign, that's a precept. If the sign reads, "Drive Carefully," that's a principle.
It is easy for a new Christian or a person seeking God to believe that he must obey a long list of precepts to earn their standing before God. But that is a religious trap and nothing could be further from the truth in the life of Christ. And it is easy for a long time believer to slip into that trap also. We can understand and accept God's grace for salvation and then fall back to living by works.
The Jews based their faith on keeping God's precepts and also created hundreds more to try to regulate behavior. Even the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament initially meant book of instruction. The Jews later changed the meaning to books of law. Jesus realized that even though the Jews were inclined to follow the letter of the law, their hearts were not right. The rules had the opposite effect, driving their hearts away from a loving relationship with God.
Jesus told them, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ (precept), ’‘but I say to you, ‘if a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart’ (violation of principle).
When he was asked "what is the greatest commandment?” (precept), Jesus answered with a principle,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the laws are based on these two principles.”
Jesus constantly taught the need to live from principles as opposed to precepts. He warned the Jewish leaders, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." God desires to change us from the inside out. That is what grace does. A believer who is living by God's grace is characterized by principle living.
Religion focuses on polishing the exterior and making sure all the rules are kept. The right kind of obedience to God comes after a heart has been changed on the inside by grace. Simple religious behavior modification doesn't glorify God it glorifies self.
Here are some signs that indicate that you may be falling from grace:
• You are overly concerned with what people think about you, so much so that you don't feel free to be yourself and instead feel a need put on a righteous facade.
• You get discouraged easily and feel like a failure when you make minor mistakes and don’t live up to the rules exactly.
• You find yourself often judging others outward appearances and actions, either thinking critically or feeling envious.
• You see most everything in black and whites and judge others by that standard.
• You set the bar high for those you have authority over and are overly harsh when they fail to meet your expectations.
• You get a feeling of superiority when you have kept a precept.
• You substitute rules for relationships. You sacrifice relationships for "being right".
Don't allow yourself to fall from grace! Recognize the signs and seek God. Repent and fall back into a life of grace. When you understand the principles of the faith and instill those principles into your soul, experiencing the freedom to make choices in life based on those principles, you will begin to experience the abundant life Jesus promised.
John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
What are the most important principles that you follow in your life?
Why do you think people gravitate to following precepts over principles?
When are you most susceptible to obeying precepts instead of following principles?